Painswick (Gloucestershire)

This male figure is noticeably different from the other sculptures of the 15th century church. Though the male (assailed by beasts) on the pre-Romanesque Anglo-Saxon manuscript folio is the earliest exhibitionist in a Christian context, male exhibitionists are very rare after the 12th century. Hitherto, they outnumbered females. Post-Romanesque males tend to be grotesques: lampoons (sometimes of the clergy) on roof-bosses or roof-beams or misericords, and seem to focus more on shitting than on phallic exhibitionism.

The fracture of the limbs is consistent with the figure having been a typical Romanesque acrobat, as is the naturalistic treatment of the genitals and anus - for not all Romanesque exhibitionists had exaggerated genitals. The head is also Romanesque in appearance. Its striations are typical of sandstone weathering.

It is, moreover, on a quoin. One or two Romanesque exhibitionists are on quoin-corbels amongst a series of figurative corbel-carvings, but the placing of the figure on a quoin is notably characteristic of many Irish sheela-na-gigs, which suggests some kind of affinity between the Painswick Romanesque male and sheela-na-gigs, contrary to theories which exclude males from their argument.

'The Painswick Man' is very different from "The Abson Man" who is himself quite an enigma.
But he seems to have been carved by the same sculptor who fashioned the (now mutilated) bearded figure in the church of Lower Swell, not far away - which has a female exhibitionist on its chancel arch.


photo by John Harding